GS Paper - 3 (Science and Technology)

A region of active star formation in the constellation Ophiuchus is giving astronomers new insights into the conditions in which our own solar system was born. The findings of the study were published in the journal 'Nature Astronomy'. In particular, the study showed how our solar system may have become enriched with short-lived radioactive elements.

What

  1. Evidence of this enrichment process has been around since the 1970s when scientists studying certain mineral inclusions in meteorites concluded that they were pristine remnants of the infant solar system and contained the decay products of short-lived radionuclides.
  2. These radioactive elements could have been blown onto the nascent solar system by a nearby exploding star (a supernova) or by the strong stellar winds from a type of massive star known as a Wolf-Rayet star.
  3. The authors of the new study used multi-wavelength observations of the Ophiuchus star-forming region, including spectacular new infrared data, to reveal interactions between the clouds of star-forming gas and radionuclides produced in a nearby cluster of young stars.
  4. Their findings indicated that supernovas in the star cluster are the most likely source of short-lived radionuclides in the star-forming clouds.
  5. Our solar system was most likely formed in a giant molecular cloud together with a young stellar cluster, and one or more supernova events from some massive stars in this cluster contaminated the gas which turned into the sun and its planetary system.
  6. The Ophiuchus cloud complex contains many dense protostellar cores in various stages of star formation and protoplanetary disk development, representing the earliest stages in the formation of a planetary system.
  7. The team also used data from the European Space Agency's (ESA) Herschel Space Observatory, the ESA's Planck satellite, and NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory.